Rachel Fitler, 93, Traveler And An Avid Horsewoman

Posted: January 26, 1990

Rachel Fitler, 93, an avid horsewoman, world traveler and granddaughter of a former Philadelphia mayor, died Wednesday at her home in Villanova.

Miss Fitler was a member of a prominent Philadelphia family that has been in the city for 200 years. Fitler Square is named after her grandfather Edwin H. Fitler, the mayor of Philadelphia from 1887 to 1891. A reflecting well in the South wing of the Art Museum is named after her father, William Fitler. She also was the aunt of Happy Rockefeller, wife of the late Nelson Rockefeller.

Miss Fitler spent her happiest days riding horses on her 25-acre estate, where she kept her own stable. She also loved to travel, taking groups of her friends on trips to Europe.

"She was a Victorian lady, a socialite from old Philadelphia," said her nephew, William W. Fitler 3d of Haverford.

"She was a brilliant woman who spoke six languages," he said. "She loved the camaraderie of her friends while she was visiting the castles of Europe, or going up and down the Rhine or the Thames, and studying the customs of old Europe."

Her genteel world was turned upside down in 1974, however, when at age 77, she became engaged to Michael Wilson, a 29-year-old waiter.

Miss Fitler soon became fodder for lurid press stories on both sides of the Atlantic. In front-page stories, she was branded the "Main Line Heiress" or the "Main Line spinster," as reporters speculated on the size of her fortune and the motives of her fiance.

The two met while Miss Fitler was visiting the Breakers Hotel in Palm Beach, Fla., where Wilson, the son of a Welsh miner, was a waiter. The engagement was later broken by Miss Fitler, who had to summon police to have Wilson evicted from her mansion. She then resumed her quiet life.

"She was a quiet, sensitive person," her nephew said, adding that after the engagement was broken, "she began to thrive again."

She was a 1914 graduate of the Agnes Irwin School. In 1940, she received a bachelor of arts degree in history from the University of Pennsylvania.

She is survived by her nephew; niece Margaretta "Happy" Fitler Rockefeller, and a great-niece, Lydia C. Fitler.

Services are private.

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